After massive Centreville fires, senior couple struggles to find a home

After massive Centreville fires, seniors struggle to find a home. (ABC7)

For Delores Dunbar, who lost just about everything in a massive Centreville fire two weeks ago, time has not healed it all.

“I’m honestly trying to learn to deal with the situation,” she said. “It’s really rough.”

Since the fire at the Forest Glen Senior Apartments, Dunbar, 55, and her husband Wyatt, who’s 67, have been living in hotel rooms, taking stock of what they lost, and desperately searching for a place to live.

Among her few surviving possessions is a cheerful ‘Happy Birthday’ balloon she received over the weekend.

Not that she’s really in a mood to celebrate.

“It’s very hard,” Dunbar said, tearing up. “But I’m trying, trying to keep the faith. That’s all I know.”

On that Wednesday afternoon, Fairfax County firefighters, and mutual aid crews battled multiple fires.

At least three were caused by improperly disposed of smoking materials.

The damage was estimated in the millions of dollars.

The Dunbars were among more than 100 residents at the senior complex, who fled for their lives.

“When I got to the door and opened it, it was full of smoke everywhere,” she said. “I got out with just the clothes on my back. It’s devastating, just devastating.”

About 50 residents are now staying at two different hotels in the Chantilly area.

For some, it is good to be able to lean on each other, chatting outside.

“It’s just been stressful, this whole ordeal,” said Daryl Campbell, another displaced Forest Glen resident. “We come out here, just to talk to each other, relieve that stress.”

Forest Glen management agreed to pay for the rooms until last Monday, then extended that deadline until this weekend.

Fairfax County Department of Housing Officials have stepped in to help search for more permanent housing for the residents.

They’ve found new homes for residents in all but 13 units, down from more than 30.

“It’s an incredible challenge for anyone in Fairfax County to find an affordable unit,” declares Vincent Rogers, a Department of Housing spokesperson.

This is one case where the county’s affluence, and the high cost of real estate, are a disadvantage.

“They need to find affordable units,” Rogers said. “Some of them have very low incomes, or are seniors or persons with disabilities who are in need of specific types of units that are hard to find in this county.”

But outside his hotel, Daryl Campbell had a broad smile on his face.

A pickup truck, driven by a friend, sat nearby, loaded with clothing and other items that firefighters were able to retreive from Campbell’s apartment.

“I guess I’m just lucky,” he said. “Relief, relief, no more stress. No more answering 100 phone calls a day.”

Meanwhile, the Dunbars are dealing with some serious medical issues.

She lost her leg a few years ago in a workplace accident, and urgently needs a wheelchair.

He needs dialysis several times a week.

Dunbar says she’s trying to remain optimistic.

“If we can just find housing temporarily, it would be great,” she said. “A couple of possibilities have popped up, but it’s not guaranteed.”

There’s a possibility of an appropriate apartment, but it won’t be ready until June, Dunbar said.

So she and her husband need a place to go, at least for the short term.

Still, after all that’s happened, Dunbar said she’s holding onto hope, one day at a time.

What would she like to see happen?

“Honestly and truly, that God blesses me with a home,” Dunbar said. “I never want to have to go through this again.”

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